Stephen Daldry, the only director to earn Oscar nominations for his first three films, recently spoke with Variety’s Christy Grosz about the seven-month shoot of “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” the Olympics and zombie-horror pics.
Grosz: Several of the directors we’ve spoken with for this series have said the critical part of the job is thinking up creative solutions on the fly. Do you agree?
Daldry: However well-prepared you are, the preparation is only to give you freedom to have a new idea. I find the hardest thing is creating an atmosphere that is relaxing enough so you can actually have the idea and making sure the crew is able and willing to roll with a new idea as it happens.
CG: When choosing a project, are you drawn to story or character?
SD: The story is the thing that always gets me. It’s not genre, it’s not theme. It’s just whether I connect emotionally to the story. I get drawn to all sorts of things that are widely different, so there seems to be no rules to it.
CG: Was it daunting to figure out how to deal with 9/11?
SD: Everything was thought through, challenged and questioned all the time, what we felt was appropriate and truthful. It was a constant conversation surrounding what we would and would not show regarding 9/11. The great advantage was having (screenwriter) Eric Roth around so that one could keep challenging ourselves. Not just in prep, but during the shoot, it was, “Are we telling the story the right way?” The key element is, how do you (handle) what in the end will be two years of your life engaged in that catastrophe? I certainly was ready in terms of research. What I didn’t know (was) the experience of what this family had endured.
CG: Jonathan Safron Foer’s novel doesn’t have a traditional narrative. What are the challenges of working with source material like that?
SD: There is a clear narrative, in a sense, so the structure was always there. Inevitably the book has many different strands and themes and complexities, (and) you have to make choices anytime you move from one medium to another. Jonathan was such a collaborator and a big partner on this. He consulted all the way through filming and post-production.
CG: How long did it take to shoot the film?
SD: It was long, a seven-month shoot. We did have one three-week break, but otherwise it was continuous from January until July.
CG: Why did it take so long?
SD: The lead actor is limited by child acting laws. It’s a five-day week that’s also limited hours during the day.
CG: It had to be a challenge to find the right child actor.
SD: We were going to hang the whole movie on this kid’s shoulders, so the child had to have extraordinary intelligence and an extraordinary emotional range. I think Thomas came along rather late in the process. Yes, I think we were all feeling the pressure. We were auditioning all over the United States and all over the U.K. Then Scott Rudin remembered seeing Thomas Horn playing “Jeopardy!” Warner Bros. were fantastic partners, and we were all very clear that if we had not found the right child we would not go ahead with the movie. Thomas came through. I think he gives one of the most touching performances by a young actor, ever. He got into very dangerous and challenging emotional territory that’s going to be a huge journey for anybody.
CG: Did you feel pressure to finish in time for awards consideration?
SD: I felt the pressure to finish it this year; I did not feel the pressure to finish it in time for awards. I try not to think about it. In the end, honestly, it’s all luck. Anything can happen or not happen and you can try to plan for it, but it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. I think it would be different if I was producing, but I’m not. You want to make sure you’re happy with something when you look back.
CG: Do you have anything lined up for your next film?
SD: I’m involved in the London Olympics 2012 as an executive producer, and I’ll be worrying about that for the next year. I will see what happens after that.
CG: Is there any particular kind of story or genre that you haven’t directed but would like to?
SD: I’d love to be able to say zombie horror, but actually that would be just for fun. My interests are pretty broad.